Ersatz Kimchi in a State of Emergency
I’m tempted to do some stealing! With an almost total absence of any police on the street I doubt I’d get caught. The only thing that puts me off is that being a waygukin, I stand out. It would only take one Korean to see me humping ‘the goods’ to my one room, for my visa to be relinquished.
I haven’t eaten cabbage kimchi in several days and I’ve noticed either a stark absence, or drastic reduction of any in restaurants. Korea without kimchi, unbelievable! You have to live here to understand the cultural and culinary significance caused by a cabbage shortage. You might find it amusing that a lack of cabbage can fuck a nation, especially when you come from a country like Britain where once upon a time, when families practiced that barbaric ritual of eating meals together, children had to be forced to ‘eat their greens.’ While Kimchi is the national food of Korea and has almost iconic status, its deficiency is not the equivalent of Germany without bratwurst, or Britain without fish and chips, it deeply more devastating. I would go for months without a bratty when I lived on Mainland Europe and sauerkraut was something you ate occasionally. Koreans eat kimchi with every meal and in some cases it is a core component of specific meals. To understand the significance of a kimchi-less Korea, you have to envisage Britain without any form of cooking oil, or potatoes, the USA without hamburgers, or perhaps even a nation without petrol or alcohol! Whatever item you choose in an attempt to elicit empathy, it has to be something fundamental enough to strike at the very heart of a country.
And of course, it isn’t just the Chinese (or Napa) cabbage that’s suffered a devastating season, cucumbers, lettuce and mooli (무), all of which are used in other forms of kimchi or in accompanying barbecues, are also in short supply. Two weeks ago, I bought a rather small cabbage for 5000 Won (£2.50) which is a massive increase on the hearty one I bought in January, costing 1000 Won (50 pence). Yesterday, in E-Mart, there were no cabbages at all and the vegetable section looked somewhat deserted. And all at a time when cabbages should be one of the most prolific items being sold by street vendors.
President, Lee Myung-Bak’s, recent declaration that he will only eat kimchi made from the European type of cabbage (양배추), until the shortage abates, suggests the problem is a national emergency. However, before we join the rebellion or start lynching farmers, it is worth remembering there was a temporary shortage last year and in 2007, when chili and cabbage suffered bad harvests, it cost me a small fortune to make a batch of kimchi.
Meanwhile, restaurants that rely on kimchi and other forms of lettuce and cabbage have had to reduce their portions and in some cases, rather than raise prices, are compensating customers by providing larger amounts of meat. As a meat guzzling waygukin, I’d much rather have less rabbit food and a larger platter of barbecued pork, especially as kimchi made from European cabbage is totally ersatz.
I’m out of fresh kimchi and intended making my winter batch this month and while I have kimchi in my ceramic pot, made in January, it is the ‘stagnant’ type best used in cooking. So, do Koreans ever steal each others kimchi ? There are a number of pots on my roof top and indeed pots stand on most rooftops as well as in recesses and corners of buildings. I’m very tempted to pinch a pot, not because I need kimchi but because nicking kimchi is both outrageous and comical. A waygukin stealing a pot of someone’s homemade kimchi during a cabbage shortage smacks of pro-Korean-ism and a love powerful enough of driving you to theft could be construed as a crime of passion.
- Surging Kimchi Prices Bite Restaurants (online.wsj.com)
© Nick Elwood 2010 Creative Commons Licence.